Your Guide to Bryson City Day Trips
Bryson City, North Carolina has it all—mountains, lakes, rivers, scenic drives, an excursion train and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. With so many nearby activities to choose from, how to spend your day can be a difficult decision.
Forty years of Innkeeping has given Sue Brown of the Fryemont Inn a unique perspective of what guests (and locals) most like to do in the area. These are her top picks for things to do in Bryson City, NC.
Bryson City On the Water
Once a hobby for wealthy sporting gentlemen, you can now take the entire family fly fishing on one of Bryson City’s world-famous fly fishing rivers–the Nantahala and the Tuckaseegee. Let one of our small-town guides show you the best spots, teach you to cast and outfit you like a pro.
Read our post on the Best Fly Fishing in Bryson City and Western NC.
Popular with biking enthusiasts, Tsali Recreation Area has a 42-mile network of scenic trails. The trails are rotated for use by bikers, hikers and horseback riders. Trails wind through the woods, around Fontana Lake and up into the higher elevations of the National Forest. Deep Creek, the Oconaluftee River Trail, and the Fire Mountain Trail System are all nearby.
Beautiful Lake Fontana is a stone’s throw from Bryson City. Rent a pontoon boat or bring your own for a day on the lake. Spot a bald eagle while cruising the 240 miles of Lake Fontana’s unspoiled shoreline. Over 90% of Fontana Lake is located on National Park or National Forest land and it is home to the 480’ high Fontana Dam—the highest dam in the Eastern US.
Kayaking and Tubing
Spend a peaceful evening lake kayaking on the serene waters of Fontana Lake, or if you’re more adventurous, try the whitewater on the Nantahala River, home to the 2013 Kayaking Freestyle World Championship. For a leisurely drift through the National Park, rent tubes in Deep Creek.
Read Sarge’s Guide to the Best Kayaking Lakes in Western NC.
On the Road Near Bryson City
Blue Ridge Parkway
America’s favorite drive has 469 miles of spectacular vistas and a surprise around every curve. Will it be a black bear cub or a wild turkey? Or perhaps a Lady Slipper or a Yellow Trillium? Kids love to ride through the dark tunnels, and the entire family can enjoy a picnic at one of the many Blue Ridge Parkway overlooks.
Road to Nowhere
In the 1930s and 40s, the Federal Government took vast areas of private property in Swain County for the creation of the National Park and Fontana Lake and Dam. Old Highway 288 was the main access road to much of this land, and it now lies beneath the shores of Fontana Lake. In exchange, the government promised to build a new 30-mile road connecting Bryson City to the town of Fontana and the old family cemeteries located there. Only six miles were ever completed. “The Road to Nowhere”, as it is known to the locals, is steep and curvy with breathtaking views of Fontana Lake and the Great Smokies National Park.
Once almost extinct from overhunting and loss of habitat, the Smokies Elk were reintroduced to the area in 2001. Today you can hop in your car in the early evening and catch a local herd grazing near the river at the Oconaluftee Visitor’s Center in nearby Cherokee.
The American Motorcycle Association ranks the close-by Tail of the Dragon, Blue Ridge Parkway and Cherohala Skyway among the 15 best rides in the country. Twisting mountain roads lined with mountain laurel and virgin hardwoods, heart-stopping drop offs, and sweeping vistas bring bikers from all over the world to Bryson City.
Innkeeper George Brown has been riding these mountains for over 40 years. Read his account of our Motorcycle Paradise.
On the Tracks
Great Smoky Mountain Railroad
It’s “All Aboard” for a fun family outing on the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad. Depart Bryson City for the Nantahala River Gorge and pass through tunnels, over lakes and streams and through some of the most scenic countryside in Western North Carolina. From the Bunny Hopper to the Polar Express there are special excursions all year long. The popular #1702 is a 1942 WWII Steam Engine, one of only two remaining in the country. Your ticket includes a visit to the Smoky Mountains Museum, a collection of over 7,000 Lionel engines, train cars and accessories.
With all this and more, it’s no wonder Expedia ranks Bryson City as “One of the top vacation spots in the US”.